Egypt: Military Without Magic, Politics Without Will

Omair Anas 2217 Gösterim

Egypt’s 25 January revolution has been reversed by hysterical 3 July counter revolution. Military supporters call it revolution; Muslim Brotherhood supporters call it military coup. The divide between military and Muslim Brotherhood is now unbridgeable. Those who supported military and created hostile political environments are the same people who had enjoyed greater clout in Hosni Mubarak regime; mainly the business community and retired military officers. Clash of interests among Egypt’s principle political actors was so deep that a military coup or a counter revolution was imminent. Egypt has strong secular and liberal traditions within social and cultural realm. But politically they remained dependent on support of either military or the Muslim Brotherhood. Military, Muslim Brotherhood and the secular-liberal forces had been using each other to remain in politics until 25 January 2011. A closer look of 25 January revolution reveals that none of these three dominant forces were main actors of the revolution and military was not interested in stopping change of regime if its larger interests were secured. Soon after the revolution, military introduced interim constitutional declaration which was revoked by the first elected president Dr. Muhammad Morsi. An objective to keep military out of politics was neither realist nor possible in immediate future. But revolutionary dreams to ensure social justice, dignity and welfare of the people had a direct clash with military’s core interests which include handing over military controlled businesses to the people and making the military accountable to the public. Regardless of the party or ideology of the first democratic government, this clash was unavoidable.

Dreams of Tahrir Square

Egyptian economy’s transformation from an agricultural to increasingly service and export economy widened a gap between high shares of capital and labour share. Economy grew from 3.5 percent during 2000-01 to 5.2 percent in 2009-10. The major beneficiary of this change was the private sector which was deeply dependent on Hosni Mubarak and his political party and the military establishment. This private sector was not necessarily competitive which allowed oligarchisation of the Egyptian economy. Top businessmen were easily incorporated in the government bodies and the ministries. Failure of redistribution services along with alienation of many traditional political forces was quite visible in this alliance of convenience between private sector, military and family-party of Hosni Mubarak. Failure of neoliberal economy in ensuring social justice and welfare of excluded and marginalized section of the society created favourable conditions for a revolution towards achieving a new social contract based on new relationship between the business, the regime and the street. Tahrir Square symbolized that aspiration for social justice, dignity and inclusion and this was an Egyptian aspiration and this was the Tahrir Square 25 January protests stood for.

Egyptian military

Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal Mubarak’s main success was to introduce neoliberal economic reforms without changing political order of authoritarianism. Gamal Mubarak was considered as the architect of this ‘controlled change’ in which the military had to accept and cooperate with the new oligarchs who had agreed to work under the patronage of Muabark and his son. First post revolution blow to these military supported oligarchs was Suez Canal development project by the Muhammad Morsi government who invited foreign investment mainly from Qatar. Hysteric anti Morsi and anti Muslim Brotherhood campaigns were obsessed with alleged compromise with the national security. A majority of business elite remain mistrustful towards the Muslim Brotherhood and its government. The Swaris brothers, the Mansour brothers, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Ahmad Ezz and many more were always given important government posts or decision making roles during Hosni Mubarak rule. Their support to ant-Mursi campaigns was not a secret. With General Al Sisi in presidential palace, transparency over investment and business decisions have once again become privilege of these elite to whom military is distributing many contracts.

Secular and left liberals

There is no detailed discussion why most of the liberal and left thinkers betrayed Egypt’s first democratically elected government. Internationally respected names such as Mohamed ElBaradei, Hazem El Beblawi, Hamadeen Sabahi, Saduddin Ibrahim and Samir Amin supported military intervention in country’s political crisis. Not only liberals, even the Salafists chose to support military betraying their own Islamic camp. It is very difficult to find a common factor which might have united arch political rivals left, liberal and the Salafists against Muslim Brotherhood. As far as Salafis are concerned, most of them had enjoyed better treatment than that of given to Muslim Brotherhood during the Hosni Mubarak rule. Their popularity is closely linked with the Egyptian migration to the Gulf countries from where Salafist trends accompanied with financial remittances. Hence Egyptian Salafists’ becoming a proxy of Saudi-Emarati nexus can not be ruled out. This was the case of most of the Egyptian politicians from left to liberal parties who were rarely tortured or arrested because of their political differences with the regime. Saduddin Ibrahim, the famous sociologist, is known for training and teaching son of Hosni Mubarak, Gamal Mubarak. Whatever the ideals might have been attached with the shadowy National Salvation Front, its gradual disintegration suggests that its leftists and liberal supporters were not inspired only by so called failures of revolutionary ideals. Egyptian political parties worked under Hosni Mubarak were dependent on individual business fortunes or the military support and that model is being effectively restored.

With left-liberals betrayal of Egyptian revolution, the three corner political spectrum is now left with two weak poles and military has taken over role of the only political party along with its being an industrial brand known as Military Inc. The controversial election law passed by the current military regime has officially confirmed this military dependent and fragile parliament in future elections. By reversing the mixed system of [two thirds list system and one third individual system], the current regime will weaken role of political parties and strengthen small parties controlled by businessmen and individual members. With this law, Egyptian politics has come back at the same point where it was during the Hosni Mubarak regime.

Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian Islamists have not shown willingness to learn from their mistakes. Unlike Tunisian Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood and its political party remained overconfident and undermined agitating streets. The way social media has revolutionized communicative space, Egyptian Islamists were faced with extremely hostile and ambitious streets. Despite having been championing causes of poor people of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t take care of its most important constituency and continued economic policies of Hosni Mubarak era and tried to deal with big businessmen out of court settlements instead of regulating them by legislation and the court. Their action against corrupt businessmen and introducing effective public distribution system could have fared well. Their cosying up Egyptian generals angered secular liberals who were already angry because of nexus between businessmen and the military. Without taking small steps to keep military in their original role, their decision to bypass it in Suez Canal project signalled an alarm within army. Then the biggest mistake was to make an alliance with Salafists at the cost of other secular and moderate political groups. Under pressure from Salafists, they appeased their religious constituency and undermined democratization process which was quite clear in their women related proposals. By staying isolated from all political parties and ideologies, Egyptian Islamists allowed secular and left leaning social and cultural forces to be allured by military and Filools [remnants Hosni Mubarak regime]. The Tunisian Islamic wisdom that “democracy is more important than Ennahda and its government” was somewhere lost by Egyptian Islamists who were once expressed their displeasure on Turkish leader Erdogan when he advised them to practice secular politics. Finally an isolated Muslim Brotherhood was ditched by none other than their most trusted Salafist partners.

Disillusioned Tahrir Square

The current military regime does not have any magic to improve Egypt’s state of affairs. All the resources borrowed from Gulf countries have to finish sooner or later. General Al Sisi’s ability to create a fine balance between emerging private sector, military and economic growth needs minimum inclusive system for which he has not shown any willingness. Exclusive electoral law and many other legal hurdles are becoming liability for Egyptian economy and for those who had supported him to overthrow Mursi. His supporters are gradually disenchanted and are critical to his undemocratic politics. Naguib Sawaris has recently expressed his disappointment saying that “current government was doing the same thing for which people had protested against Muslim Brotherhood”. Many political parties are realizing that things are not heading towards right direction. Secular and liberal leaders are finding very difficult to justify why they had supported General Al Sisi. None of revolutionary promises seem to come true in near future. It is unlikely that Egyptian economy starts responding until there is a proper inclusive system and rule of law. Emergence and dominance of old oligarchs called as Filool, has strengthened military’s role in financial affairs. Emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has posed most serious and direct ideological threat to the political Islam and its movements across the world. Muslim Brotherhood has responsibility to respond not only the Egyptian crisis but also to rescue Islam from slipping into the hands of extremists. Tahrir square symbolizes social justice, welfare and dignity of Egyptian people which is still an unfulfilled dream. In absence of strong willingness of Egyptian political parties, future of Egypt as well as other Arab streets from Iraq to Yemen has been arrested by external interventions, regional rivalries and their manipulative tactics. Democracy is not victim of failures of Islamists alone; it is also victim of Arab seculars and their complicity in the military adventurism.


Omair Anas completed his PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University with his dissertation "Transnational Arab Media Culture: Responses of Al-Jazeera Audiences in Germany". He was visiting scholar at the Institute of Media and Communication Studies, Freie University, Berlin. He is also convener of Delhi based Egypt Solidarity Forum which he had founded in December 2011. He has published his study on “Facebook Campaign of Kulluna Khaled Said” along with many research publications on Arab media.